Is Maggie Haberman worth it?

January 20, 2020 • 12:59 pm

by Greg Mayer

As early as a few years ago, Jerry began worrying about the editorial drift of the New York Times. At the time, I wasn’t concerned. The questionable pieces were op-ed articles—opinion pieces not by the Times or its reporters. Although you could question the choice of writer, it wasn’t the Times‘ writers. But then it was the Times‘ own opinion writers and editorial board members (remember Sarah Jeong?), and then even the news division. I wrote this last fall:

I originally thought that the Times “wokeness” was just a series of bad hires for the opinion pages, but such bad hires have gone both ways– who, other than his close friends and family, could care at all what Ross Douthat thinks about anything? Jerry sounded the warning early, and, sadly, it is now clear that he was  right, and that “wokeness” has infected much of the paper’s news coverage.

The trend has continued, and I’ve now found myself asking whether I should cancel my subscription—maybe subscribe to the Washington Post.

But, the Times isn’t all bad. In fact large parts of it are great. They have loads of terrific reporters. I mention Maggie Haberman in the title mostly because she’s also the daughter of one of my other favorite Times journalists, the now mostly retired Clyde Haberman (I especially liked his “NYC” column). But there are many others: Peter Baker on politics, Adam Liptak on legal matters, James Gorman and Carl Zimmer on science, and Tyler Kepner on sports, to name a few.

Here’s some of the recent bad stuff out of the Times. It’s in all the sections now: News, Style, Arts, Opinion. It’s both wokeness and woo—perhaps we can call it ‘wookeness’. The most salient example is the disaster of the 1619 Project, which Jerry has noted before. Interestingly, much of the pushback against the Times advocacy of shoddy history has come from leftist sources, most notably (to me) the World Socialist Web Site of the Socialist Equality Party. Why would leftists oppose the 1619 Project? Eric London summarizes it this way:

The “1619 Project” is a politically motivated attack on historical truth. Through this initiative, the Democratic Party seeks to present race, and not class, as the essential dividing line in American and world society.

and the article initiating the WSWS coverage says this:

Despite the pretense of establishing the United States’ “true” foundation, the 1619 Project is a politically motivated falsification of history. Its aim is to create a historical narrative that legitimizes the effort of the Democratic Party to construct an electoral coalition based on the prioritizing of personal “identities”—i.e., gender, sexual preference, ethnicity, and, above all, race.

The WSWS site has posted interviews with a number of respected historians (some leftist, some not; some American, some not) which are very critical of the 1619 Project: James McPherson, Clayborne Carson, Richard Carwardine, Gordon Wood, Dolores Janieweski, Victoria Bynum, James Oakes, and Adolph Reed (a political scientist). There’s more on the Project at the WSWS website. (I learned of the WSWS material from Brian Leiter’s website.) The most recent item on the WSWS site claims that Google is manipulating search results so as to downrank WSWS pages. WSWS notes that the first page of Google results gets 92% of the traffic, so the fact that WSWS’s substantive critiques of the 1619 Project show up on page two or three means that not very many people will be led to it. The WSWS has posted quite a lot on the Project, but I’m not sure I can judge the ‘appropriateness’ of Google’s results, or if the WSWS’s low rank indicates “suppression”. I could imagine that Google has a generalized bias against WSWS (and sites like it); I’d need more evidence to convince me that Google is acting specifically against WSWS’s coverage of the 1619 Project. Regardless, visit and link to the WSWS pages to raise their pagerank.

JAC note: The 1619 project has been constructed to be convertible to a school curriculum, and in fact it’s been adopted by public schools in several cities, including Buffalo, New York. This is the first case I’ve heard about of a newspaper attempting to indoctrinate schoolchildren with a particular ideological view. I consider this a dangerous precedent.

To round off the wokeness with some woo, from the Style section we have yet another embrace of astrology by the Times:

. . . and then this bizarre piece in the Opinion section, in which Jessica Stern, who is a professor at Boston University, wrestles with her conscience about engaging in “energy healing” with a war criminal:

Karazdic performs some “energy healing” by waving his hands around her head, and she “felt a kind of electricity heating up my head, making me slightly dizzy. But soon I began to calm down, at least a little.” Then, she has the sensation of trees growing out of the palms of her hands, which she attributes to Karadzic. She goes on, “I don’t know how this energy works; all I know is that it does.” Yikes!

As Beth Mole, a science journalist at Ars Technica, succinctly puts it, “energy healing” is

. . . a load of pseudoscientific garbage.

(She was writing about Gwyneth Paltrow, but the point still holds.)

So that’s my dilemma– is it worth putting up with, and financially supporting, the foregoing, in order to get Maggie Haberman?

40 thoughts on “Is Maggie Haberman worth it?

  1. Woo and pseudoscience are poisons on the left that correspond to how fundamentalist religion poisons the right.

  2. In spite of its faults, we need the NYT more than ever, as one of the few news organizations left with the means and will to do significant investigations. Consider the reports they’ve done on Trump’s finances and history. I’d urge you to continue the subscription and subscribe to WaPo as well. I do.

  3. I read that article by Jessica Stern on Karazdic a few days ago, how Karazdic gets Stern to experience “electricity heating up [her] head, making [her] dizzy”. I don’t think Stern believes in the power of energy healing; I think she told about that experience to illustrate the kind of power manipulators like Karazdic have over other people.

    This was about evil manipulators, not about endorsing woo powers.

      1. Perhaps this was exactly her point, that Hannibal Lecters are real and can get into your mind, that it is difficult to distinguish energy healing from ruthless manipulation

        1. But she says she was a student of energy healing before ever meeting Karadzic. He didn’t convince her it was real. He got inside her head because she already believed. You’re right that it seems Hannibal Lecter-ish.


  4. Well the WP subscription is significantly cheaper. I subscribe to both but probably read more in the post – plus it has cartoons!

    1. I’m not a NYT reader but if you allow ‘woo’ or ‘wokeness’ in some sections it will spread and contaminate other sections because it will be ‘validated’ by people continuing to purchase the publication.

      I gave up my subscription to New Scientist over the cover story ‘Darwin was wrong'(January 2009) and the direction towards gossip about scientists, opinion, and uninformed articles. UK circulation has dropped.

  5. I don’t know what the answer is. Complaining to the paper does not seem to get anywhere. They are going for a different audience for some strange region. At some point, if it gets even worse, you have to say so long. The real news business is going away along with most everything else of quality.

    1. “The real news business is going away along with most everything else of quality.”

      I couldn’t agree more. Few things could be more ironic than the NYT being “rattled by the weakness of the institutions that we trusted to undergird those values” given that they head the list of such institutions.

      1. Yes, I also think the news business has gone south elsewhere, such as television. People get what they ask for or maybe what they deserve. Long ago I was told the newspaper business was quickly going away and the only way it could be saved is if people supported it. Like with taxes. They are not going to do it so that may be the end. If the rich guy at Amazon gets tired of supporting the Post, it will go as well. They maintain something like 800 journalist at that paper today. That is a big payroll and maybe one of the last places for real investigative journalism. Together with the Times, most of the information we know about our government comes from there.

  6. Far as I’m concerned, Maggie Haberman is all right (if a bit humorless), but The Habes relies way too much on “access journalism” — on what powerful insiders want to feed her — rather than getting out and wearing some leather off her shoes.

  7. I have subscribed to the NYT for as long as I can remember. I have only recently subscribed to the WP because I got a good rate. I think I like it better. The wokeness of the NYT gets on my nerves, but I can read around it, the same way I read around the Trump apologetics in the WSJ.

  8. Could it be the the NYT, like most newspapers these days, is having trouble staying afloat? The astrology and “healing” crap is just a strategy for picking up a wider readership. If that’s the case, then I think you’ve just got to hold your nose and subscribe for the meaty bits.

    1. Actually, I believe they’re doing well financially, and one of the few newspapers that has made their online operation profitable.

  9. You quote this from the World Socialist Web: “The ‘1619 Project’ is a politically motivated attack on historical truth. Through this initiative, the Democratic Party seeks to present race, and not class, as the essential dividing line in American and world society.”

    This is the objection of these socialists to the 1619 project: it raises race above class as the predominant explanation of American history. There can be legitimate debate as to what has been more important, but, I go with race or, more broadly, cultural factors. I don’t believe socialists can present a compelling argument as to why there has been so little class conflict in the United States as compared to Europe. Yes, there have been bitter labor conflicts such as the Homestead and Pullman strikes. And, yes, the government sometimes intervened to suppress strikes. But, I would argue, that in the broader scheme of things these incidents are relatively minor. This is because the ruling class has used race, religion, and ethnicity to suppress working class solidarity. For example, these tactics worked like a charm for the planter elite before the Civil War to keep poor southern whites hostile to blacks held in bondage. For well over a century socialists have been befuddled by their failure to create a working class movement. The existence of racial factors explains a lot. Socialists my not like this, I don’t like this, but to deny it is what is actually the falsification of history. The 1619 Project, with all its faults, presents an essential truth.

    1. I think you’re correct in the analysis of socialists’ motivations (they said as much!), and in saying that “the ruling class has used race, religion, and ethnicity to suppress working class solidarity”. The latter, in fact, is exactly what the WSWS is saying. Their point is to prevent it from happening again. But that’s the WSWS’s motivation, which explains why they’ve interviewed a bunch of historians. The historians are not all socialists, and probably are not motivated by the socialists’ concerns. And even if they all were socialists, understanding their motivation would not refute the substance of their arguments.


      1. I have read the interviews of historians on the World Socialist Web. I am also familiar with the works of James McPherson, one of the interviewees, who is generally considered the dean of living Civil War historians. I just re-read his interview. McPherson’s main objection to the 1619 project is that its emphasis on race and racism is that they are just part of the American story. It’s hard to disagree with this. But, it is certainly a major part and a much bigger part than class conflict. As we both seem to agree, the ruling class has managed to mute class conflict by playing on racial and other cultural fears. In his interview, McPherson barely mentions class conflict, thus not offering much solace to the socialists. Clearly, the main article of the 1619 project contains many factual errors. I wish a real historian had written it. This notwithstanding, the 1619 project has performed a public service in educating the generally historically illiterate American public that race, racism, and cultural conflict have been major themes in American history. The New York Times should publish a revised version of its articles, fixing the factual errors that have been pointed out.

    2. The main objection from some of these historians (err, well at least Adolph Reed, who is the only one I read regularly) is that the invocation of white supremacy as a transhistorical quasi-mystical specter that diffuses among the souls of white folks is a non-explanation. And yet, that sorta thing remains quite common, such as saying that white supremacy is in our nation’s DNA. What’s needed to understand history is a detailed, systematic account of the material relations in society and how they change over time. That is the only path to demystification.

      The same objection applies to contemporary accounts of black-white disparities, which are blamed on white supremacy (what can this even mean?), rather than as the effect of the neoliberal reforms on exacerbating pre-existing patterns of poverty due to the legacy of slavery and racial discrimination.

  10. I canceled my Times subscription about 2 or 3 years ago after subscribing for around 35 years.

    I started subscribing to the Post…which is far less “woke” than the Times. And it’s about $35 per years for a 1 year introductory subscription…depressingly low. (I thought of the Wall Street Journal but that’s $400/yr.)

    In terms of the 1619 Project, the World Socialist Web Site has published the following which you can order for $10 bucks….help them out and order a few:

  11. “…is it worth putting up with?” Of course I don’t know your mind Greg Meyer, so I can’t answer you, but I can tell you what’s in mine. The NYT is, like most things, not an unalloyed bastion of excellence, nor does it publish only things of interest to me. (I saw the piece on Karadzic, skimmed the end, pretty creepy – and skipped the rest, uninterested.) But I do know my world would be much dimmer if I didn’t have the NYT to open each morning for its news and long, in-depth investigative reporting. I thank my lucky uh, stars that the NYT is in the world. I support it with a daily subscription, and I’ll keep doing so as long as it keeps putting out the good stuff with its excellent, professional staff. “You [won’t] know what you’ve got ’till it’s gone.”

  12. I try to stay away from the non-hard news stuff. Perhaps blasting this kind of stuff in the comments is a good way to fight back. They and WaPo do such overall good investigating work that it is worth subscribing to despite it’s faults.

    If you subscribe to WaPo (I do), you are also enriching it’s owner, Bezos, at least in theory anyway. Given the usual profit margin of newspapers these days, maybe it’s not so bad as I make out. Anyway, at least here Bezos provides a laudable public service in supporting good journalism without getting in the way (as far as I can tell).

  13. I ended my subscription to the Times a couple of years ago, and haven’t looked back. Other than a few odious OP writers, The Washington Post is mostly holding strong. You won’t miss anything important by following just the Post.

    For what it’s worth, among some legal scholars whose conversations I politely listen in on occasionally, Maggie Habberman isn’t all she’s cracked up to be. If it’s any consolation.

  14. Carl Zimmer is good. If half the paper is worth it to you, I would get it. You won’t find a 100% great paper anywhere.

    Unless you are pissed at the Times for their lame both-siderism in the face of a stunning collapse of the American political system. Then maybe not.

  15. So that’s my dilemma– is it worth putting up with, and financially supporting, the foregoing, in order to get Maggie Haberman?

    IMO whether an op-ed writer or local area coverage is worth the subscription cost of a paper/website is a personal preference choice. But IMO for national or global news, I don’t really think any paper is worth it. There’s too many decent free new sites to make it worth it.

    I subscribed to the NYT waaaay back when Olivia Judson wrote for them. Her columns were great. I don’t now, as BBC and CNN scratch both my news and opinion itch pretty well. As an example, I think Elie Honig does good legal analysis for CNN. My only complaint about him is he doesn’t write articles often enough. 🙂

    1. Free news sites are cheap, of course, but the work of reporting costs money. Our unwillingness to pay for news has resulted in a dramatic decline in the news industry. We’re all the worse off for it.

        1. That’s one way to rationalize it. But of course, you’re just paying people who aggregate other people’s work. No actual journalists get paid for your clicks and eyeball gazing.

  16. Many colleges and universities purchase an institutional subscription to the NYTimes that allows faculty and staff to have access. Also, we get the print version of the Denver Post and that allows us to receive a discount on the digital subscription to the WP.

  17. I don’t receive any media in print anymore. Do subscribe to digital Atlanta paper for local news. All other news is gotten on line. Don’t think getting news in print is necessary anymore. No need to cut down all those trees.

  18. I worked in news, and I’ll say it straight up – you shouldn’t support junk news.

    You aren’t saving the investigative team by doing it, because what management sees is that they can cut costs on quality journalism, put up cheap shit that gets eyeballs, and just declare a bigger profit.

    If the news isn’t worth supporting, don’t support it. Eventually somebody will produce something of quality that makes money, and things well come right, but if stuff that lacks quality is making money anyway because people want to save the investigative team, well that’s not going to do it, it is just going to make the CEO look better to shareholders.

  19. This is creeping into everything at my local NPR station. I have been seriously considering stopping my “sustainer” support.

    (I would continue to support the local classical station, which, on some days, I find is the only radio station I can stomach.)

    I recently found out that the local set up a diversity project. In net effect, as far as I can tell, this results in identity politics being injected into every program and story.

    I have also noted this creeping into many of the NF books I read these days (recently-written ones). I tried to read Rebecca Sonlit’s River of Shadows, purportedly about Eadweard Muybridge. When I got to this quote (11% in),

    Josiah D. Whitney, who directed the state;s geological survey in the 1860s, managed to get the state’s tallest mountain named after him and had the name transferred when it turned out they had measured the peaks wrong the first time. This well qualified him for the huge lie he later told for Leland Stanford.

    I stopped. Certainly that quote well-summarizes the life and achievements of Whitney. (/sarcasm)

    And, just a bit earlier in the text:

    The early-arriving Yankees named the land they stumbled across as though they had become deities or invented the mountains and rivers themselves.

    Um, right, those names like La Puebla de la Reina de Los Angeles, San Juaquin, Sacramento, San Frnacisco, San Deigo, Ventura, Santa Catalina, Santa Fe, Escondido, San Bernardino, etc., etc. (And there was never any history of Europeans naming places they immigrated too.)

    It’s fine to note and castigate previous wrongs such as the Tuskegee Syphilis study, as Matt McCarthy does in Superbugs. But it seems like every author is feeling the need to “put out more flags” to prove their wokeness. And maybe that pressure is coming from employers/publishers.

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